Clinton’s Damage Control: ‘Different’ Yet ‘Same’ as Many Americans

Copies of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's new book 'Hard Choices' at a book signing on June 10, 2014 in New York City.

Photograph by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Copies of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s new book ‘Hard Choices’ at a book signing on June 10, 2014 in New York City.

Hillary Clinton, promoting her “Hard Choices” memoir, already faces some damage control for comments about how hard-up she and former President Bill Clinton were leaving office.

“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” the former first lady said in a prime-time interview aired by ABC News last night. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea’s education.”

It was that plural “houses” — and also Clinton’s comments about how hard her husband has worked making money to repay millions of dollars of debt for defense lawyers leaving office in January 2001 — for which she was answering this morning.

So, at the start of a book-tour with the formal release of that memoir today — a tour carrying her from New York to Chicago and Washington this week — the former secretary of state who will make a decision about running for president by year’s end finds herself explaining that she and her husband may be “different in very dramatic ways. But we also have gone through some of the same challenges as many people have.”

Round two of the book-debut interview today on ABC: Robin Roberts, featuring Clinton on  “Good Morning America,” pressed her for talking about “struggling” — when so many Americans really are and don’t have “a book and the opportunities that you have.”

“Well, let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton replied, slowly choosing her words. “Bill and I were obviously blessed. We worked hard for everything we got in our lives, and we have continued to work hard. And we have been blessed in the last 14 years. But I want to use the talents and resources I have to make sure other people get the same chances.”

Like multimillion-dollar book contracts?

Clinton has sold more than 1.5 million copies of her books since leaving the White House, with a new one rolling out today about her years as secretary of state. The biggest seller, her 2003 memoir,“Living History,” earned her an $8 million advance fee. The former president was paid a reported $12 million for “My Life,” a 2004 release that has sold more than 2.25 million. Both Clintons have made six-figures delivering speeches around the world.

This was enough to launch the morning chatter on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today.

Host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida’s Panhandle — who, for the record, has disavowed any intention of running for president in 2016 — compared Clinton with the Republican nominee for president in 2012, Mitt Romney. Scarborough noted how he and others had ridiculed the multimillionaire for a detachment from middle-income reality. Bill Clinton’s idea of hard work — getting on a private jet and delivering a high-paid speech for an hour? It was enough to set Scarborough to chuckling.

And Roberts was pressing Clinton as well today — “struggling?”

“Everything in life has to be put into context,” Clinton told Roberts. “As I recall we were something like $12 million in debt…. I was in the Senate and could not do anything to help us meet those obligations. I’m very grateful that my husband, who’s always been a hard worker since he was born, you know, poor and given opportunities with a good education and strong values to work hard and take responsibility, he did that.”

“We understand what that struggle is, because we had student debts, both of us, we had to pay off, we’ve had to work,” Clinton said. “I had a couple jobs in law school. He had lots of jobs. We have a life experience that is clearly different in very dramatic ways. But we also have gone through some of the same challenges as many people have.”

This was, to some extent, repeating what she said in the Sawyer interview:

“It was not easy,” Clinton said in the talk aired last night. “Bill has worked really hard. And it’s been amazing to me. He’s worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts, which was — we had to make double the money because of obviously taxes and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members.”

Such as delivering speeches for which the former president and his wife have been paid “five times the median income in this country?” — as Sawyer put it.

“Well, let me put it this way,” Clinton told Sawyer. “I thought making speeches for money was a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company, as so many people who leave public life do.”

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